“Pop, Pop, popular Pop!” We sang as we jumped and jiggled between the seats of the old Studebaker.
Daddy disliked this appellation. Glancing over his shoulder he roared at us to sit down and be quiet. For about a minute we stood quietly. Then: “Sing us a song, Daddy. Please sing the “Yippi-yi” song.”
Daddy had a clear, pleasant baritone voice. Soon we were rollicking along to the tune of “She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes.” Daddy sang the authorized verses and improvised a few more. The family ‘yippi-yi-ed’ the choruses with great gusto. Several miles passed while we went the “Long way to Tipperary”, taking “Five minutes more” to “Hang out our washing on the Siegfried Line.”
At some stage during the songfest Philip and I subsided onto the back seat of the car, taking an interest in the passing scene. How far had we come? How far had we still to go?
From earliest memory, my father and cars were closely intertwined. Not the sleek, buttoned down cars of the enthusiast. Nor the vrooom-vrooom racers. Just the ordinary, usually elderly, family cars with names like Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Willys. Our cars seldom saw the inside of a garage or service station. Dad spent many of his weekends and much of his spare time cleaning, greasing, oiling and tinkering.
This does not mean that he regarded his cars merely as pets to be groomed. Not at all. We spent countless hours traveling the long, dusty roads of my childhood. We learned to know the countryside of our native Natal in sunshine, rain, fog and dark. After more than sixty years I can still feel the nights, monitoring infrequent lights on the hillsides as we sped home at our customary twenty-five miles an hour!
Daddy showed us the stars in the blackest night, taught us to use an air rifle safely, to ride our bicycles. We learned not to trifle with his instructions, and that what we had thought were suggestions were really orders. He was a man of great bonhomie, yet subject to violent mood changes. He was not always comfortable to live with.
“What happened when you were little, Daddy?” “What happened in the war, Daddy?” “Where?” “Why?” “When?” “How?” “Who?” Always questions.
A fine raconteur, Daddy had a story for every question. Along with him, Granny drove us to school when it was really a public holiday. We helped to build roads in Abysinnia, sheltered in foxholes in Italy while the rain filled them with water. We met the irascible General Montgomery, shared the adulation of his men.
Shortly after the close of World War Two, we moved from South Africa to Kenya. We traveled in a Willys sedan car, packed as full of family and belongings as Dad could squeeze in. Toddler Will sat on Mum’s lap. Philip and I had two tiny nests on the back seat. Our journey was an adventure, fraught with boredom, tasseled with excitement. Wherever we stopped Dad talked with the local people, later showing us places of interest, telling us stories of the area.
We saw Kilimanjaro in the dawn; inspected a long dead volcano; disturbed a small group of buck. Dad said they were Tommy gazelle. There were so many things to see, so much to learn, and often times we lingered on the way.
We settled on the outskirts of Kisumu, between the equator and the lake. Dad drove to the local aerodrome, parked on the highway beside the perimeter while a DC10 landed, coming in just above the car roof. Afterward we went in to look at old Spitfires parked along the wire, and inspected the apple-smelling DC10.
We visited the game parks at the foot of Mount Kenya, delighting in the variety of wild life, watching a herd of elephant cross the road before us, being chased by a rhinoceros.
We returned to South Africa with the uprising of the Mau Mau. Dad heard the rumors and was concerned for the safety of his family.
I think it was Dad put the sand in my shoes. He planted the seeds of wanting to go, to know, to see and to do. We had many differences, and when I became a Christian our relationship became more divided. However, despite the difficulties, I have a treasury of memories of a very talented, very human father.
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